Attention, Cadets! This is Rogue Three and I am here to give you a rundown on my impressions and predictions on the upcoming Skystrike Squadron pack.
But first, a little bit about me! Some of you may know me from the online Tabletop Simulator scene as Duck or Justin from Team Jawa, where we run various different formatted tournaments, the latest one can be found here.
Moving on from my shameless plugging, I have been playing X-Wing for a year and a half now, having only played 2.0, and I have been playing competitively since the January 2020 Las Vegas Open (remember playing in person?). I dabble in a little bit of everything faction-wise, but I will always consider my primary faction to be the Galactic Empire, so I’m really excited for this pack! With that said and without further ado, let’s jump right in!
First off we have the TIE/d “Defender” Multi-Role Starfighter which serves as the Empire’s “Space Superiority” fighter. It has a terrifying statline with 3 attack, 3 defense, 3 hull and 4 shields, it also has a white 4K and the Full-Throttle Ship ability that grants it a free evade action if it performs a speed 3-5 maneuver.
This baby is very hard to take down and it can pack a punch in return, coming in at a hefty 68 points for an unupgraded Delta Squadron Pilot I1 generic. It’s a very expensive ship and justifiably so. Quite a few Imperial players are a big fan of this craft and many people dread to see them getting placed on the table across from them.
While the Defender may not be easily recognized by most casual Star Wars fans, many people will remember them from the old 90s TIE Fighter flight sim games or, more recently, the Star Wars Rebels cartoon. In canon it was designed as the pet project of Grand Admiral Thrawn to push a doctrine of fighter supremacy in order to combat the growing Rebellion as opposed to the standing Imperial doctrine of giant capital ships and Death Stars. For anyone who has seen the films, Thrawn lost out to the big battle balls.
TIE/d’s in Skystrike
Prior to the Skystrike pack, the Defender’s roster consisted of 2 generics (I1 and I4), with three named pilots (Rexler Brath I5, Countess Ryad I4 and Colonel Vessery I4). Skystrike will contain five Defender pilot cards. Since the pack contains a single Defender model, we can assume that two of those cards will be the generics. That means three new pilot cards, of which one has already been revealed:
Skerris is….. Interesting. Essentially his ability is that he gives you an additional action that is very comparable to Passive Sensors. However, this action gives you a strain and when you perform a “bonus” action during the engagement phase, you can perform anything off of your action bar rather than being limited to a calculate or lock as Passive Sensors would.
Unfortunately, I don’t see much value out of this ability. The Defenders are already very expensive, with Skerris’s I5 contemporary, Rexler, coming in at a whopping 78 points. This means we can expect Skerris to be in a very similar boat. From what his ability is, I would expect him to be a bit cheaper, maybe clocking in at about 74-76 points. So worse comes to worst, we may have access to an I5 Defender at a cheaper cost than Rexler, but that may be the only advantage Skerris has.
“But Justin,” you may ask, “what is wrong with his ability? Passive Sensors for free sounds pretty good.” Well, dear reader, my issue with it is this: Passive Sensors derive the majority of their value in the ability to acquire locks on things that move after them. However, Skerris’ ability comes with the additional cost of a strain, reducing your ~75 point ship to only 2 greens and making it easier for your opponent to deal damage. This is not something you want on a ship costing you nearly half of your list. Furthermore, this ability really has no value against a lower initiative ship, so if you’re playing against anything that’s not an ace, the ability is useless.
Worse still, if you are flying against aces, they will get to shoot before you, taking full advantage of that strain after already having had the ability to reposition to not get shot in return. The only way I can really see value in Skerris’s ability is if he gets his special action coordinated by another ship, then performs a blue maneuver to clear the strain. That way, you can get a double modded shot against anything that moves after him that is foolish enough to stay in his firing arc. However, that means that you also need to add a support ship to this already costly pilot. A very heavy investment for what amounts to a gimmick.
Skerris does have a very small niche in that he is solid when pitted against other I5’s while being controlled by the first player, as it allows him to reposition to not get shot after enemy I5’s have moved, but I think this, unfortunately, places him in the same niche as Turr Phennir, where they rely far too heavily on what your opponent brings to be consistent in value. He may be fun, but I’m afraid where he stands now I don’t see a place for Skerris in the competitive scene.
Aside from Vult Skerris, we also had a configuration spoiled for the Defender, one that is already causing quite a bit of discussion: The TIE Defender Elite.
The Elite changes the Defender considerably: it reduces its 3 hard turns from white to blue, and changes the 1 and 2 hard turns from red to white. However, the white 4K that the defender is famous for also gets a difficulty increase from white to red. An interesting trade to be sure, and one that I like a lot. The 4K from the defender was highly predictable, and the ability to make sharp turns opens up its dial a lot. In fact I think the elite will make the Defender a lot more fun to fly!
Additionally, the config also replaces the infamous Full Throttle ability with the option to “double-tap”, or fire twice utilizing an equipped cannon or missile if you have a lock on the defender. At face value, double-tapping is pretty solid. It allows the Defender to often throw anywhere from between six to nine dice (if you’re running proton rockets)! This is even better than the B-Wing who can only hit up to eight, with the B-Wing also having to spend the lock to do so while the Defender only needs to have one, meaning the defender can reroll its primary attack if it so desires! Pretty good right?
Well, this comes at a severe cost. As I have already mentioned before, the Defender is pretty expensive. It has those seven health hidden behind three greens, so it is pretty tanky, and it throws three attack dice to boot. But what also needs to be taken into consideration of the cost is the Full-Throttle ability. That “free” evade token is a massive contributor to not only the Defender’s survivability but also its cost.
For comparison, look at the N1 starfighter’s cost. The reason it is so expensive isn’t for it’s mediocre statline, but the Full-Throttle ability that gives it the evade it needs to survive. At time of writing, there are no cards in the game that reduces the cost of a ship. What this means is that if you decide to take the Elite configuration upgrade, which will likely cost points, you are still paying for that Full-Throttle ability but not receiving the benefits. Furthermore, you also need to take the secondary weapon to double-tap with, and likely further upgrades.
So what you are looking at is a ship that costs anywhere from 75-90 points that could very well blank out and die in the first or second engagement, and in exchange get the ability to shoot twice. It feels like it is much more reliant on variance than a standard Defender (less total mods) and it’s a lot of points to sink into something that may not do that much for you: the ability to shoot twice but only modify your dice once. For comparison, IG-88B has a similar statline but with an extra health, a comparable dial, and can still double tap without the lock restriction (being restricted to cannons instead) for about 10-20 points cheaper. And with that said, IG-88B doesn’t see much competitive play either….
Ultimately, unless the Defender Elite is the first upgrade to come in at negative points, I don’t foresee it getting much use aside from on Vessery, who can endlessly recycle locks to really get good value from that double-shot, or perhaps Ryad (depending on how her ability is ruled, whether she can still white K turn or not; the verdict is still open).
The Predictions and Hopes
But that isn’t to say all hope is lost! As said near the beginning of this article, we still have two other unannounced pilots for the Defender, so I would like to make a quick mention on what I think/hope they are!
The first, and far more likely, upcoming pilot is none other than our favorite asthmatic Dark Lord, Vader.
Vader in a Defender has often been whispered in quiet horror by many a X-Wing player. Defenders are already terrifying to deal with and adding three force tokens onto one at initiative 6 is even scarier. While this definitely has the ability to break the game, I can still see the developers trying to fit him in. Not only is there precedent for it, as Vader flew a Defender in the Thrawn canon novels, but I do believe with some tweaking, he can be made to work. Most notably, preventing him from spending his force on defense. This will still make him hard to deal with and definitely the centerpiece of any list, but it will at least make him a little more manageable.
Additionally, as with Hera in the RZ-1, Vader will need to have his ability changed from that in the TIE Advanced. A Defender constantly getting multiple actions would undoubtedly be next to impossible to balance, and I think FFG would have been fully aware of this during the design process. But again, this is just a guess. Truth be told, we don’t have many named Imperial pilots in canon, doubly so for the Defender. And that, dear reader, is what brings me to my second guess: Maarek Stele.
Maarek is a bit obscure to most people, but going back to the TIE Fighter flight sim, Maarek was the character that the player was represented by. He was an ace pilot (and in Legends, latently force sensitive) who served the Empire as an ace pilot, often flying a lot of the newer, experimental Imperial craft. While most of his backstory is no longer canon, Maarek himself is, and with him also existing in Star Wars Armada, I think this is a great time to use him again. They can even give him the same ability as in the x1, allowing him to flip three cards from the opponent’s damage deck when they suffer a crit, then choosing the result. A good ability that isn’t overly powerful and, I feel, very well balanced that would be good to see on a lot more chassis.
TIE/in’s in Skystrike
Now to talk about a ship I truly love, and what I am the most excited about: the TIE/in Interceptor. This is perhaps my favorite ship to fly in X-Wing, and my second favorite ship in Star Wars (closely falling behind the Lambda Shuttle). Until now, the Interceptor has unfortunately only had a total of four pilots: two generic pilots at I1 and I4, Turr Phennir at I4, and Soontir Fel at I6. While Soontir has been a fantastic pilot, the rest of the platform has had a bit of a struggle in the competitive scene, an “ace platform with only one ace”, if you will. But no more! Skystrike will be coming with a whopping 10 pilot cards! And with two generics for each of the two interceptors in the pack, that leaves us with six Brand New Interceptor Pilots!!!
As of now, two of these pilots are known, at least by name, with only one being fully spoiled. The first of these pilots is one that both Imperial and First Order players should be familiar with: Gideon Hask.
While I don’t have too much to say about Hask, given that his ability is the same as his TIE Fighter, I will mention that his ability is great! I4 is a decent initiative where he can out-ace the vast majority of generics, and he will be shooting after any aces you bring along, giving his ability more chances to proc. Gideon will be throwing 5 attack dice at anything injured and at range 1. He is going to likely be ~45 points or so, similar to Turr but perhaps a bit more expensive due to his ability. This means he can pretty easily squeeze into most lists and be put into plenty of positions to blow away anything that has already suffered damage. A very good addition to the chassis, in my opinion.
The other slightly-spoiled pilot is Ciena Ree. While we don’t know her ability as of yet, many people will be pleased to know that she is another Initiative 6 Pilot. This means that she will likely be competing with Soontir for a slot as an ace in quite a few lists. We will have to wait and see what she does before we can try and figure out in what best way to use her, but an initiative 6 is still an initiative 6, and unless her ability is insanely good, she should be costed at a price point that will fit in fairly easily alongside Soontir and Vader for a Triple I6 list. I have no doubt that this archetype will see a lot of play in various tournaments after Skystrike’s release…
Something we can hope for, perhaps, is for Ciena to retain her crew card ability, albeit modified a bit. Her crew card allows a coordinated ship to gain a stress after performing a boost or barrel roll to rotate 90 degrees. Undoubtedly if this ability was carried over, she would lose the coordinate. We can also assume that, to allow her to still use her autothrusters, that she wouldn’t gain a stress from rotating. Ideally, she would instead gain a deplete or strain token, which would allow her to use her autothrusters more often, pull off some crazy maneuvers, and keep her a lot more viable. Speaking of autothrusters…
We have our final spoiler for this pack (so far), Sensitive Controls (hereafter referred to as SC). This ability replaces the Autothrusters which limits the ace potential of the chassis but turns the interceptor into a pseudo-Eta2, allowing the interceptor to perform a red reposition during the systems phase. This can enable some really wonky maneuvers from the interceptor, help set up blocks on otherwise unblockable ships (looking at you, G4R-G0R), and outright change how the Interceptor flies. Only time will tell how good this will or won’t be, but I can tell you now that if I’m right about Ciena’s ability, this will enable her to pull off some truly crazy maneuvers….
The Predictions and Hopes
So far we have two pilots that we know of, but that also means that there are four other pilots that, as of the time of writing, we are completely clueless about for the TIE/in. I won’t go into super deep detail on what I think we may or may not get, but I would like to throw around a couple of ideas for pilots that I think we may see, starting with the most likely and working our way down to the least:
First off, we have the mustached maniac again, Vult Skerris. Skerris seems like a logical guess to me, seeing as he is already present in the Defender, an easy pick for an I5 interceptor, and present in the Rebels show flying this chassis during his initial appearance in the show. FFG would likely have even carried his ability over to the Interceptor. While the limited action bar narrows its use, it would allow Skerris to get a mod and reposition or double reposition during the engagement phase. This ability seems to synergize, to me, more with the interceptor than in the Defender, especially against lower initiatives. Care must still be taken if he is flying against other aces, as a strained Interceptor could die very quickly.
My next prediction is Instructor Goran. Goran is the “headmaster” of Skystrike, and therefore seems to be an obvious inclusion for the pack. He could also be one of the few support pilots for the Empire that is not in a shuttle/reaper. This could help with one of the Empire’s biggest weaknesses in that there aren’t many small base pilots passing tokens or buffing nearby allies (aside from Howlrunner and Jonus). He could also be another I5 for the chassis, as I would argue anyone teaching cadets how to fly should know how to fly themself.
People who know me should not be surprised as I would like to, again, suggest Maarek Stele. His ability is solid as is, as mentioned with the Defenders, and would again be a perfect I5 Interceptor pilots. #MaarekFliesEverything has been one of my catchphrases amidst the X-Wing interwebz, and I’m not going to ignore it now. In the aforementioned TIE Fighter game, Maarek flew everything from TIE Fighters to Defenders to Missile Boats and Bombers; practically every single-man operated craft the Empire had to offer. He should be, in this writer’s opinion, the “Oddball” of the Empire (and I would very much like to see him in the Star Wing as well) .
The last character that I would like to look at should be familiar to anyone who has played Jedi: Fallen Order, the Second Sister. Second Sister is an Imperial Inquisitor and the primary antagonist of the game, making her initial appearance in one of the opening scenes by landing in a TIE Interceptor after the player character, Cal Kestis, and his coworkers have been rounded up in order to catch the suspected Jedi. She’s mean, she’s lethal, and she would bring force points onto the Interceptor chassis. I would assume she would be I4, alongside her Inquisitor v1 peers, Seventh Sister and Fifth Brother, and I think could come with an ability that prevents modifying focus results for enemies in the bullseye. Really lean in to the Jedi-hunter persona. This could also set the precedent for bringing other game characters, like Cal, into the game. Plus imagine all the cool alt-art cards we could make of her. Overall, I think adding Second Sister would be…
So what do you guys think? Do you agree with me? Or think I am mad? Let me know in the comments below and I hope to write more articles for the Empire and other factions in the very near future!